Millennium Actress & Our Obsession with the Chase || OWLS “Devotion”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s third monthly topic of 2020, “Devotion,” I wanted to give special spotlight to a recently rescued and released anime film that I’m sure many fans of the early 2000s era might recognize: Satoshi Kon’s magnificent Millennium Actress!

When we talked about fandoms, we show our appreciation and support by buying merchandise, cosplaying, writing fanfiction and etc. In fact, our appreciation can end up looking like a sign of religious worship. For this month, we will be talking about how certain characters express devotion to others, objects, and values. We will also be discussing how devotion can turn into an unhealthy form of passion and obsession and the implications of that.

I’ve got an interesting angle for this one that I hope you guys will enjoy. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

chiyoko rides


A brief discussion of the 2002 anime film “Millennium Actress,” animated by Madhouse, directed and based on the original story by Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai. 

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Have you ever been starstruck? You know, met or have worked with someone so cool, famous, or at least well-renowned in your area that you find yourself absolutely mesmerized by this person’s presence, their every word? Well, that was budding filmmaker Genya Tachibana to Ginei Studio’s star actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, many decades ago.

Now, at the turn of the millennium, the legendary studio is set to be demolished. As an ex-employee, Genya decides to honor this occasion with a special commemorative documentary about Ms. Fujiwara herself. Having retired at the height of her career, the sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema has lived a reclusive life up in the mountains. With the hour now at his chance, an eager Genya cannot be more excited to place his lifelong idol back in the spotlight one last time.

As a young lover of film and the industry, Millennium Actress quickly won my heart. Navigating through over a thousand years of Japanese history, the film seamlessly bobs and weaves through entire eras by showcasing all of the major roles Chiyoko has played throughout her prominent career. Nearly an hour and a half of carefully crafted cuts and quick visual tricks culminate in an experience that is as unique as it is autobiographical and personal to this now very tired, very humble elderly woman.

Chiyoko’s narrative gracefully guides us through the three major periods of her life: adolescent fame, her blossoming teenage years, and her still-yet accomplished adulthood. Specifically, we see how a young girl’s early encounter with love shaped the rest of her life. Driven by romance and adventure yet saturated with the pains of drama and missed opportunities, Kon’s film—with Chiyoko’s character—lives on today to inspire an entirely new generation.

chiyoko elder

A Fateful Encounter Under a Full Moon

From samurai to spacesuits, Chiyoko Fujiwara has played them all throughout her fabled career. To call her a person of passion would be an understatement; very few actresses can embody the wide range of personalities appropriate for acting as a woman living in so many different historic eras, as well as so many countless roles. And yet, our “millennium actress” is capable of being the perfect heroine for all time! So what drove the idol of Genya’s dreams to become a master of her craft? Well, like it might happen for any of us: she fell in love. 

Before she became a household name, Chiyoko was caught in an incident which involved her helping an injured man. Although he supposedly may have been an “art thief” on the run, that didn’t stop childhood Chiyoko from being swept off her feet that fateful night. In their short time, they bond over simple life pleasures together, one of those being the moon.


Chiyoko looks up at the night sky, remarking how beautiful the full moon will be tomorrow. But the “man with the key” says that it is most beautiful now, for once the full moon is here, it only begins to wane. Whereas, it is under this this sky that you can spend the whole night looking forward to what the moon will become.


I think that this single, beautiful metaphor is representative of the entire film. I’m sure the mysterious man with the key who lives day-to-day may value this philosophy due to his risky occupation. But after her date with destiny, Chiyoko won’t ever be able to shake the man’s charm from her memory. In a long-winded and tiring search spanning a lifetime, Chiyoko scours all of Asia for any chance to reunite with the man. Even when she loses the one symbolic representation of their relationship—the key which unlocks “the most important thing”—she never stops longing for his love. She chases after him, and relentlessly so. After all, the chase kept her excited—-kept her living on the edge of love, forever—-and allowed her to feel eternally young at heart even as her hair grayed and memories began to fade.

chiyoko runs

It Was Never About the Destination

Hidden high up in this quiet mountain home is a thousand years of Japanese cinematic history just waiting to be narrated. Chiyoko’s deep reflections of the past take Genya and the viewer on an illusory journey through the saga of an actress’s career and her incredible filmography. As the actors in her life blend with the characters on screen, the tatami beneath their feet shifts from stage to stage, and the present completely blends with the past.

This is the extraordinary tale of a phenomenal actress who was so devoted to pursuing the love of her life that she stumbled through a legendary film career in the blink of an eye. Similarly, we also see how a fan’s positive and passionate devotion to his idol can lead to wondrous outcomes with the right intent behind them. Though the remarkable actress may have retired at the height of her career decades ago, Satoshi Kon’s directorial magic absolutely has you convinced that the curtain on her life’s stage has yet to fall.

chiyoko key

Does Chiyoko ever see the man with the key again? Well, does it really matter? If nothing else from this story, what we come to understand is that when we have our eyes set on only one thing in life, the meaning for everything else can start to fall from our view. Perhaps, just perhaps, we had what we really wanted all along. Like the night before a full moon, maybe the longing for some things—the journey itself—is more satisfying than the destination will ever be . . .

And so, as Genya presents an elderly Chiyoko with the very key she lost so many years ago, she at last finds what “the most important thing” to her was. After a long pursuit spanning a thousand years, it finally dawns on her that perhaps she was never in love with the man to begin with—she was just lost in the tremendous thrill of the great chase. 

chiyoko sakura


After all, it’s the chasing after him I really love. — Chiyoko


Afterword

Some beauty really is timeless. There’s so much cinematic and storytelling gold here that I could write a hundred—no, a thousand—posts on this film. I’m definitely glad I held off on this one for as long as I did, but even more so thankful to Eleven Arts and Shout! Factory for licensing this gorgeous film (the Blu-ray restoration is terrific)! Need I say more for now? Millennium Actress may just be the best film Satoshi Kon ever made, a certified “Caffe Mocha” for all those who know how I do things around here. But what are your thoughts on this timeless classic? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

This concludes my March 27th entry in the OWLS “Devotion” blog tour. My dear friend Mel (Mel in Anime Land) went right before me with a post on K-pop and idol culture that you can read right here! Now, look out for Megan (A Geeky Gal) this coming Monday, March 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

On British Literature & Fate: What it Means to be Remembered || OWLS “Legacy”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s second monthly topic of 2020, “Legacy,” I’m gonna stand on the soapbox for a bit and just talk about my own experiences with the word, while also making  connections to some of my favorite stories, both in anime and literature.

We have mentors, teachers, coaches, and role models whose stories inspired us in some way. Even when these role models are gone, their stories will live on from generation to generation. For this month, we will be exploring stories that have inspired or taught us some important lessons about life.

This will be a shorter post, but hopefully one still with merit to it. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

rider drinks


Of Legends and Lore

So I’m currently taking this Survey of British Literature class at uni and we just read (well for me reread) the old manuscript of Beowulf. In case you didn’t know, Beowulf is the titular protagonist of the oldest poem in English literature. Set in what is currently the areas between southern Sweden and Denmark, the folk epic recounts the tale of one of the world’s oldest documented heroes. Battle-brave, brazen, and bold, Beowulf is a champion all throughout his lifetime—and for his mighty deeds and charisma, his glory continues to live on well over 1,000 years as students are told and retold the story of bravery, loyalty, and honor.

Our society likes heroes. Typically, such figures like Beowulf (or anyone from the popular MCU) provide icons we can admire or stories to fall in love with. Beowulf defeats the wretched, demonic Grendel, slays the beast’s sea-witch of a mother, and even conquers a dragon—the very representation of the mythical and the divine—transcending his mortality at the tragic cost of his own life. In his last moments on earth, Beowulf performs this unbelievable feat, and is rewarded for his courage and virtue by becoming a figure forever enshrined in the hearts of his men. Truly, Beowulf is a hero.

Even if it’s not the most “stimulating” read, I enjoy this Old English poem a great deal. The timeless values of a warrior society often feel much easier to discern than the overtly emotionally-conflicted minds of, say, a Shakespeare work. At its core, Beowulf is a simple tale, yet one that imparts upon the reader a vision of the past—of whale-path waves crashing against the beaten rocky shore, and of powerful sailors that can command these swan-road seas on a whim. As we behold a man in his final hours transcend heroism from one thing to something else, we find that Beowulf embodies the changing spirit of this long-lost warrior society—as well as its very best parts.

rider smiles

Knights of the Round

We flash forward a few centuries with a different set of morals and mindsets, but the same human heart, with the Arthurian legends. No more are people barbarians at sea; this is a time of knighthood, and with it comes refined honor and bravery, courtliness, gallantry towards women, and most of all, chivalry. Like most chivalric romance, Arthurian poetry employs the motif of a quest to tell its tales, which always comes in a familiar set of 3’s: a challenge, a journey, and a test.

Whether conquering an enemy’s castle for the sake of one’s kingdom or fighting off the nasty temptations of Morgan le Fay and at times even Britain’s own Queen Guinevere, upholding the virtues of a knight was certainly not the easiest task to accomplish. Courtly love can lead the men and women of this time to spiral into all kinds of romantic trouble, but the chivalric code must always be upheld. Stories like Lanval and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight perfectly illustrate the delicate balance between desire and doing what is right. 

knights of the round

Despite being some of the hardest Old English literature out there to decipher, endless fun can be had with Arthurian lore. Today, the names of King Arthur and his knights are often trivialized, which is saddening given how excruciatingly poignant the tragic irony of a given character’s betrayal or death can be.

Yet, when done justice, we get incredible works like those from Type-Moon’s Nasuverse, including the Fate/Grand Order mobile game, Yoshiyuki Asai’s Fate/Apocrypha, and Gen Urobuchi’s masterpiece of pseudo-historical fiction, Fate/Zero. Fate‘s portrayals of Artoria (Arthur) Pendragon, Lancelot, and Mordred are easily my favorite ones out there, as their combined cinematic lore is almost as deeply interwoven as the original legends themselves are.


I suppose having your name recorded in the history books is a form of immortality. But if that just means your name gets passed down for two thousand years and nothing else, I’d have preferred to have even a hundredth of that added to my actual life. — Rider, Fate/Zero


And while on the subject of past deeds influencing the present, seeing how intensely Alexander the Great (Iskandar) continues to influence young Waver Velvet’s life even a whole ten years after the Holy Grail War in The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II lends allegoric proof to the fact that history’s greatest heroes can especially impact our hearts with the legacies they leave behind.

rider and waver

Even Heroes Die

The tales of Beowulf and King Arthur’s knights have long-since been told. While we know they lived valiant lives, we’ve also come to understand that even heroes die. Unfortunately, we are past the time in which we can rely on a single hero. We can’t rely on just one person solely to be responsible for watching after us all. And so, we must become heroes in our own lives, even if our deeds often go unrewarded. We can choose to embody the fiery bravery of a warrior, the dutiful chivalry of a knight, or even some other code of honor that I didn’t discuss in this post.

We don’t have to be the strongest or the greatest. We can be weak heroes, for even a weak hero is still a hero. This sentiment is echoed in K-pop sensation BTS’s “Anpanman,” which describes the popular red bean bun mascot’s determination to help those who are closest to him, even if he’s no Batman or Superman.

Anpanman is the local hero in our own lives we can rely on time and time again. The best part is that we can be each other’s Anpanman, so long as we are willing to help those in our lives who need it most. We can be heroes, too. And just like those who inspired us to be great, our legacies can live on in the lives we touch, and maybe—just maybe—be remembered for a long time to come.

lancelot and the lake


Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. — Shannon L. Adler


Afterword

For the first time, coming up with a single series to talk about proved more difficult than it should have. Maybe that is why I settled on this loose discussion over something current and relevant to my life: Brit lit. Or, perhaps, I had been wanting to talk about these famous knights and warriors from the days of old for a while now . . .

Regardless, I had one more quote running through my head as I was writing this: “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create something that will” (Chuck Palahniuk). As a blogger, artist, and musician, all I can do is create things. And thus, even if this blog is the only thing even remotely memorable I can leave behind, I’d still be eternally grateful for the opportunity to share my words with people like you. Please, continue to chase after your dreams and your passions, for what you can share with others will only add to the stories they will share about you!

This concludes my February 8th entry in the OWLS “Legacy” blog tour. Megan (Nerd Rambles) went right before me with a post about the literature that has left an impact on her, which you can read right here! Now, look out for Aria (The AniManga Spellbook) on Tuesday, February 11th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Idolmaster SideM: How Personal Branding Shapes Our Image || OWLS “Visions”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s first monthly topic of 2020, “Visions,” I wanted to engage in a side of me that I’ve been neglecting for some time: My interest in idol culture, and how idols can actually inspire their fans to strive to become their best selves.

Happy New Year! Since it is a new year, it’s a new you! This month we will be talking about various pop culture mediums that focus on envisioning “the future.” What type of future do we want for ourselves, our communities, and the world? Also, we will be sharing our goals and plans for the new year.

The New Year’s celebration is my favorite time of the year. I buy hard into that whole “New Year, New Me” business, so really, it’s all one big self-care holiday for me. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

315 producer.PNG


A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2017 anime “Idolmaster SideM,” stylized as “The iDOLM@STER: SideM,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Miyuki Kuroki, and based on the franchise rhythm game of the same name.

A Fresh Change of Pace

Talent recruitment and entertainment agency 315 Productions may be in its infant stage, but the calm and caring producer of 315 promises his idols a place on the world stage so long as they work hard toward their dreams. Specializing in scouting prospective idols who previously held other jobs, all have a place at the agency, whether a former lawyer, pilot, or even a surgeon. As these men—some in their mid thirties, others still living their high school days—grow to understand their new positions, they’ll have to make sacrifices and trust in each other if they are to achieve their dream of becoming top idols!

Is this really a story about grown men who are sick of their lives and willing to gamble away their careers to sing and dance on a stage? Wow, it’s no wonder I liked this anime so much. Idolmaster SideM is a tale of reinvention for its stunning ensemble of idols, each with an origin story more different from the last. In just 13 episodes, we hear from a whopping 19 different men and how their individual lives have aligned at the crossroads of music and fame.

Some accounts are far more detrimental than others, say, the pilot who left his job because his anxiety overcame him in a near-fatal crash vs. the quiet boy who just wanted to come out of his shell. Or the twins who abandoned their professional athletic career due to one being burdened by a substantial injury compared to the guy who went along with it cause his buddy did. Again, each story is different, but not one of their ambitions are to be deemed “lesser” than the other’s. In fact, it’s thanks to this variety of perspectives on seeking change and self-improvement that Idolmaster SideM allows itself to be light-hearted yet feel grounded and real—inspirational, yet with one foot in reality’s door.

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Creating the Idol “Brand”

What does it take to be an idol? Geez, one could go down all different routes to answer that one. To keep things relevant to this post, I want to focus on the concept of brands, AKA one’s identification or signature style. For example, my blogging brand (or so I hope) is marked by its connections to good vibes and clean aesthetic under the theme of an urban city cafe. How does an idol group go about designing their brand? The six young idol units of SideM quickly discover that there’s a lot more to it than color-coordinated costumes and snazzy photography. 

For idols, especially the bigger name groups like 315’s Jupitereverything down to the very way you live your own life determines how the group is perceived. If a famous idol were to be seen drinking a specific soda type or repping a certain fashion brand on a given day, their fans might perceive this beverage and that jacket as elements common to the idol’s life (even if purely coincidental), thus branding the idol’s group with these particular companies. Fans may eventually try to match their favorite groups by supporting these companies and buying their products, which feeds back into the industry itself. So yeah, brands matter.

315 dramatic stars.PNG

When it comes to envisioning their own brand, the ex-lawyer, pilot, and surgeon of DRAMATIC STARS struggle with what to wear during their first photo shoot. Jupiter’s black leather is too cool for them; High×Joker and Beit’s wild colors and textures seem too childish. So, they settle on wearing the uniforms of their respective careers in hopes of representing the most true versions of themselves. While it’s not the most pleasing collection of outfits, it’s certainly an original look that they feel most comfortable with being known for.


Tsubasa and I, and everyone from 315 Productions, have led different lives, and different circumstances brought us all here together. We all have our reasons, but the goal has always been the same. We’re chasing the same dream together!Teru Tendo


Connecting Brands to Reality

All this talk about idols and branding and representation got me to thinking about how I want to market my own personal brand. Between falling back into K-pop hell and observing how real idols create the personas they desire, to expanding my own platform with an Instagram, it’s definitely been on my mind. 

What do we, as bloggers, want our personal brands to look like? How can we achieve this vision of ours? Takuto is obviously not my real name, and unfortunately, I do not own my own cafe, let alone work at one. These were decisions I made to “create” the Takuto you know today. Everything from my blog’s theme colors to the way I interact in the comments (like how I use the ~ all the time) were choices. 

So, how do we do it, creating our “online selves”? Just like with the DRAMATIC STARS trio, it’s a tricky balance of being true to yourself while also pursuing the change you desire in life. The anime and manga I review inform you about my tastes in entertainment. Thus, it should be my goal to highlight the types of shows and series I personally love and collect through my posts (with exceptions to sharing an honest opinion), be it with words or pictures. And if I find my tastes changing, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to address any waning interests, or invite you to witness any exciting new finds either in my watch list, on my shelves, or even in my personal life.

dramatic stars party.PNG

As bloggers, as writers, we have one goal: to connect with our readers. In that way, we aren’t that different from pop idols that strive to connect with their fans. If we hide behind fake interests or write a lackluster review over a series, they will be able to tell. They always do. If you don’t have anything to say about a given series (yet feel “forced” to review it anyway), perhaps you should dedicate that time and energy into a post you could absolutely gush over, be it for something you intensely love or extremely dislike.

However, we should also acknowledge that interests can also change—if a blogger wants to add a new segment to their site, try out a new platform outlet, or simply take a break from their normal content to just write about themselves, we should embrace their efforts and support them in all their new endeavors. I mean, unlike idols, you can become truly close friends with an internet content creator. Why would you not pay it forward while you can? In all that you do, be cautious, but be yourself—the best things will come from doing just that.

side m jupiter.PNG

We’re All Just Trying to Create

As creators of some kind of content, it can be easy to let the issue of personal branding slide under the rug. Little do we or they (the ones that get paid millions to stand on the world stage) realize the impact that even the most seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives have on the perceptions of others. Especially as bloggers, these are points that we don’t really ever lend coverage to, and I think that’s part of the reason why it might seem difficult to become a socially “successful” internet blogger. We’re a quiet people often hidden behind walls of text. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are impersonal people—in fact, I find writers to be some of the most relatable humans out there, but that’s a post for another day. 

In a roundabout way, Idolmaster SideM tackles very similar issues about perception and personal branding that internet content creators must deal with. Additionally, the series confronts the realities of what it means to be “associated” with a particular vibe or energy, as well as the physical and mental training idols must undergo to achieve that vision. It’s an awful lot, and at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to create something people can love. So, whether a complete novice or one of the billboard’s top hits, one thing’s for sure: There’s no such thing as a lazy idol.

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They are the ones that worked hard. All I did was talk to those brilliant people.Producer


Afterword

Frankly speaking, there’s a lot of “good” going on in Idolmaster SideM. Watching each of 315 Productions’ idol groups grow is a daunting task thanks to the short series run, but an incredibly fulfilling one despite the odds. Following these guys side-by-side as they stumble in practice and struggle with clashing personality differences is an endearing process. I can walk away from this anime saying, “YES, they’re all good boys!!” as I finally grasp the appeal behind male idol anime. Simply for its inspirational premise of throwing caution to the wind and saying “Screw it, I wanna be famous,” Idolmaster SideM is a certified “Cake” here at the cafe! Got any thoughts on the series or idol culture in general? I’d love to hear them down in the comments. 

This concludes my January 14th entry in the OWLS “Visions” blog tour. My good buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) went right before me with a personal post over the hit film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that you can read right here! Now, look out for Aria (The AniManga Spellbook) as she walks us through antiquity and the future in Dr. Stone this Thursday, January 16th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

My Top Five Favorite OWLS Posts That I Wrote in 2019

Hello all!

I figured I try to get this post out there before the new year began, so here we are once again to celebrate some of my writings throughout 2019. Can you believe I’ve been with the group since the beginning? That means I’ve written exactly 36 OWLS posts since our founding! As I did in 2017 and 2018, I’ve compiled a short list of favorites from this third round of posts. In the spirit of the New Year and bidding the old farewell, these are posts that represent my journey through anime, and some of the major life lessons I’d like to share with you, the reader!

As I mention every year, *clears throat*, “All of my OWLS posts are my babies—in fact, they’re probably some of the best posts I’ve ever written, if not THE best of what I’ve got so far, and I thoroughly LOVED writing ALL of them.” So, enjoy my reminiscing, and feel free to scope them out if you’re feeling the urge to relive each month’s thought-provoking topic.

On my site’s menu, you’ll see that OWLS has its own tab (and rightly so), so you can find all the other pleasant posts I wrote in 2019 that didn’t make this list. Alright, here we go, a look at Takuto’s OWLS participation in 2019!


RUNNER UP:

Tour #26 February – A Story That Loves Love: Go For It, Nakamura! | OWLS “Adore”

We open with a sweet one that is near and dear to my heart. It’s Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura, and is the second manga to be featured as an OWLS post on this blog. Why didn’t this bumbling klutz make the cut? As wholesome as the story was, a single volume doesn’t allow for as much depth as a 24-episode anime might, so it just barely makes the runner-up spot on the grounds of being too short and sweet for its own good. But don’t worry, I feel the others are worthy contenders in their own right!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Love yourself to the fullest capacity that you can.
  • Crawling out of your shell is a scary experience—do it anyway.
  • Sometimes, we need friendship more than romance.

NUMBER FIVE:

Tour #28 April – Chasing You, Chasing Me: The Heart of Run with the Wind | OWLS “Masculinity”

The first half of the year was arguably full of my better works, but we slide into number five with this little character analysis over my favorite title of 2018, Run With the Wind.  Y’all know I’m a hoe for one Haiji Kiyose, so it shouldn’t come across as a surprise that I’m happy to be able to write about him and this series whenever I get the chance! Plus, I thought he was a less-than-stereotypical choice for a post about “masculinity” (if you catch my drift). Ahh, the whole Kazetsuyo series I did just takes me back to watching this wonderful series!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • We are not as tough as we seem—be sensitive to other’s emotions.
  • Run with your feelings, not against them.
  • Run life at your own pace, but run with others when you can.

NUMBER FOUR:

Tour #27 March – She Flies Again! The Stellar Women of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 | OWLS “Feminine”

Run With the Wind gave us a cast full of incredible men, but March also showed up with  the equally remarkable women aboard the space battleship Yamato. A masterpiece of storytelling and character drama in itself, the “Feminine” OWLS tour allowed me to give special spotlight to some of anime’s most underrated galactic heroines. So much raw talent and spirit flies with the Yamato‘s crew, but were it not for these particular ladies, it is doubtful that the ship would have made it across the stars at all.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Lead with the heart, always.
  • One should always value honor in their craft.
  • Embrace diversity—it can often be one’s greatest strength.

NUMBER THREE:

Tour #25 January – The Conviction to Change in Bunny Girl Senpai | OWLS “Metamorphosis”

We’re heading back to the very first tour of 2019 with the infamous yet beloved Bunny Girl Senpai. I distinctly remember the first three episodes of this series taking the anime community by storm as it walked us through Sakuta Azusagawa and Mai Sakurajima’s fateful encounter with one another. The sheer emotional drive from this single hour of content was what pushed me to dedicate an entire post to this first mini story arc, and boy has it still stuck with me to this day. Eclipsing intense drama with a quick-witted romance, Bunny Girl Senpai offered more fun, multi-layered character growth than most modern anime could dream of.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Until we open up to others with our problems and allow each other to see why we are hurt, confused, or scared, we’ll never be able to understand one another
  • There will always be something we hate about ourselves, something to regret.
  • However, we can always try to change ourselves to make our lives better.

NUMBER TWO:

Tour #30 June – Sarazanmai & The Price of Connection | OWLS “Vulnerable”

Back when the heat of the summer first hit us in June, I distinctively recall being nervous to post this one. And yet, here it is as one of my favorites from the year. Despite its wacky narrative and silly premise, I will probably always hold Sarazanmai near and dear to my heart. I resonate so much with each of the series’ characters, Enta’s story particularly being the highlight of this post. Burdened with unrequited love yet the desire to connect with others anyway, Sarazanmai shows us how good things can come to good people, so long as they can stomach the pain of potential loss. It was an odd one for sure, but oh-so full of heart—that I can guarantee you.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • So long as we try to reach out to others and form connections, we’ll always be vulnerable to attack, physical or emotional.
  • But more importantly, just by trying, we’ll always have the chance to be happy.
  • Love yourself, and cherish the bonds you form.

AND FINALLY, NUMBER ONE:

Tour #33 September – Michiko & Hatchin, Two Against the World || OWLS “Lover”

Did my pick for #1 surprise you as much as it did me? Before writing this post, I reread through all of the OWLS posts I wrote in 2019 (as I do every year), and was really caught off guard by how emotionally charged I sounded in this post, haha! I truly meant it when I said “Michiko & Hatchin slaps differently now,” as wow, it really is a wild ride through the messy side of intimate relationships.

So much of this series is full of broken relationships and shattered hearts. In other words, as much as I pride myself on the optimistic values of connection and happiness in Sarazanmai, Bunny Girl Senpai, or even Run With the Wind, at the end of the day, we’re all people. And people, as I’m sure we all know them, make mistakes. We screw up, badly, and often leave certain ties to rot and eventually fade away. Michiko & Hatchin is a story about our failures to develop healthy relationships with people—but also a bold tale of resilience, determination, self-growth, and rebirth for two young women just trying to find love in a world that gave up on them seemingly from the moment they came into it. Perhaps it’s that futile yet noble pursuit of love that made September’s “Lover” tour my favorite OWLS post of 2019.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Love can be a curse that ties people down in the past, entrapping their emotions in the present to those memories long-gone.
  • Having a lover can also make us do rotten things to other people to make sure our relationships are protected.
  • People will come and go all throughout our lives. Surround yourself with the good ones: those who give love, not take it.

I WILL Be Catching Up On All Your Posts, Too!

Within the next couple weeks, I’ll slowly be reading through each and every last OWLS post from 2019 in an attempt to catch-up before the new year gets too underway. It’ll be an intense endeavor (as it always is), but I kinda look forward to it as a sort of OWLS tradition I hold to myself. So, be on the lookout for my Twitter spam of your guys’ posts as my way of giving back to you. You’re all fantastic writers, and I wouldn’t be in OWLS were it not for this ever-growing family!

But anyway, that’s my line-up for this year. What did you think? Was there a post you were shocked to see up there, or perhaps one you remember liking that didn’t make the list? I assure you that it was actually pretty difficult narrowing it down to just five, but I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on my OWLS 2019 tour entries! Thank you all so much for a wonderful year with this group—I eagerly anticipate another set of 12 OWLS posts I can add to my blogging “resume” in 2020! More year-in wrap-ups and updates will be coming before New Year’s, so until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

See you back soon!

– Takuto

“Unhauling” for the Holidays: Why I’m Giving, Not Getting || OWLS “Holiday”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s twelfth monthly topic of 2019, “Holiday,” I wanted to sit down and have an honest little conversation with you all on my anime collection. Specifically, how I will spend the remainder of 2019 with a focus on giving rather than receiving gifts.

We are at the end of the year! For this month’s topic, we will be discussing what the holidays mean to us. Some of us have a religious perspective on Christmas, while some of us see Christmas as a celebration of family. For this prompt, we will be exploring how the holidays are celebrated around the world using various pop culture media. We will also describe what the holidays mean to us. Happy Holidays! – OWLS Team

Sounds pretty first-world, I know, but maybe you’ll read this and take it as cautionary advice for any eager collectors out there currently doing their own holiday shopping. Thanks Lyn for the freedom with this prompt!

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To Haul, or to Unhaul

We begin this post with a brief etymology of the subject word here. As you’ve probably guessed by now, “unhaul” is not a real word. I was introduced to this term by fellow anime and manga-collecting enthusiast Simply Gee over on YouTube through her video, “The Great Unhaul: Unburdened for 2020.” If to “haul” something means to address recent pick-ups or goods that are new to one’s possession, ‘un’haul means just the opposite:

un·haul (verb): essentially, to oust items from one’s possession, either by selling or donating. 

It’s not a novel concept by any means; people have been tossing out old junk or selling their collectibles on eBay for ages. And yet, the video struck a powerful chord with me. “What does a collection represent for its owner? What does it mean for someone to own something that they a) do not like or b) will not watch/read/use/wear/etc.”

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Just when I thought my collection was at its peak and brimming with success, I found these fundamental questions to be picking at my brain all through the night. I couldn’t sleep. I had too much stuff, and only now just realized it, which brings me to my next point.

2019 was TOO Good for the Collection

I mean this in the least bragging way possible. Guys, despite posting all kids of crazy hauls of fancy anime limited edition boxes and figures (especially as of late, yeesh), I am not a wealthy individual. Really, this is money I should be saving for my higher ed stuff to come later. But like most of us, I find ways to pocket money to my hobbies.

Within these past couple of telling days, I finally realized that maybe I am spending a bit too much on hobbies, though. 

I never understood it when anime collectors talked about “running out of space,” or “putting stuff in storage.” How could someone have so much as to put some of it away? I didn’t get it, until this year I found myself stressed that I couldn’t maintain the balance of white-space-to-object ratio.

AKA I have too much crap, and if I get more I risk losing any sense of aesthetic or clean organization. 

Guys, I spent a lot of money on hobbies this year. A LOT. From cosplay and books to anime and figures, I spent far more than an undergrad student in college should. And now, I’m gonna get rid of some stuff.

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Unhauling for the Holidays

I’ll skip the part where I stayed up till two each night the past couple days just going through everything I own and throwing away “old shit.” (Yes, I recycle. And YES, I have plans for proper dispersal of all this stuff from my room.) I got rid of clothes from freshman year of high school, recycled tons of old papers from middle school, and disposed of the junk that just plain didn’t work. It was, as I reported on Twitter, “the most intense decluttering of my life.”

You may ask, “Why have you held onto all this crap all these years, Taku?” The easy answer is I’m a hoarder, but the more truthful one is that I genuinely apply the same collecting mentality to my school work, old hobbies, etc. as I do my anime and manga.

Until now, that is.

It was “a great unhaul” indeed, and once I got started (following my mental breakdown where even looking at my shelves started making my breath heavy), I couldn’t stop. I got rid of everything. ALL of my possessions were thinned, combed through for the usefulness and happiness each item brought me. Only the things that gave me #goodvibes stayed; for all else, it was the great purge. Eventually, all that remained for me to examine were the shelves themselves: the heart that I’ve been filling for the past six years of my life.

Methodically scanning through each shelf, one-by-one I started pulling various manga volumes, novels, and eventually anime down from my shelves. “If you have (or I know can) make me happy, you stay,” I told myself as I held each book, each Blu-ray, and weighed their fate. The volumes, series, prints, and knick-knacks that my siblings don’t want will be sold online to any willing buyers. As for the “good” stuff . . .

I’ll be giving away parts of my collection, my very soul, to my siblings. By reading my personal posts, you may have realized that I’m very close with both my older brother and younger sister (yeah, I’m the middle child). I’ve watched just as much stuff with them as I have on my own. Through this unhaul, it finally dawned on me, like a light-bulb clicking on in the dark:

Why don’t you give the shows that your siblings like more than you do to them?

I’ve always been the one they came to for entertainment; rarely was it the other way around. If they want to watch something physically, they’d come to my room and peruse the shelves, not unlike how someone would at a library. I have so many wonderful memories with all different kinds of anime—but half the reason I have those memories is because I didn’t watch those shows alone.

So for the holidays, in addition to whatever gifts I had already bought, I’m giving back to my siblings the shows and series that mean something to both of us, in addition to the memories we made along the way. I think this focus on giving rather than getting will prove psychologically beneficial, as well as help free up shelf space.

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My Recovery from Unhealthy Collecting Habits

Yeah, I spent a lot of money on anime stuff this year. Yes, I realize I have accumulated some stuff that I know I’ll never get to, but bought anyway cause it was “on sale.” And yes, my own collection, that which I hold most dear—which I *literally* look up to each day for inspiration and motivation—was somehow able to make me physically sick just looking at it.

That was where I was two days ago. Through ousting piles of old papers, clothes, and junk from a decade ago—and by listening to lots, and lots, and LOTS of BTS—I’ve come to realize that receiving can be a deceptively more draining and daunting act than giving. When you get something, it’s gotta go somewhere, and I had finally run out of space for new stuff to go.

So, what goes in that space I just made? Love for myself. Happiness for myself. I’m not kidding: I’m keeping these blank spaces on my walls, in my closet, under my bed, and on my shelves to remind me that if I can’t breathe in my own room, I’m doing something wrong.

This enlightening philosophy has also transferred to other aspects of my life: I filtered through my phone’s photos and music, only keeping the pictures and songs that make me feel happy about myself. Additionally, I’m eating healthier AND exercising to k-pop music every day, and I honestly haven’t felt this much body positivity in ages—perhaps BTS is the real hero of this story, hahaha!

I’m unhauling pieces of my collection for 2019 because others might be able to get more happiness out of something than I could have, absolutely. But also, I’m unhauling because I have to. This is self-care for me, and thanks to seeing that life is much better when you can feel light and weightless—physically and emotionally—I can finally charge into 2020 feeling unburdened, content, and lighter than ever before.

And honestly, I’ve never felt better.

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Twinkling starlight
Building with blinking light
We’re shining brightly
In our own rooms, in our own stars

Mikrokosmos – BTS


Afterword

Wow, that’s a load of my chest. This holiday season, I encourage you all not necessarily to toss out a bunch of shit like I did, but just to sit down for a moment and get in touch with your own belongings. What brings you happiness? If something doesn’t, why have you held onto it? Would my life be better without this thing I won’t ever use? You’d be surprised how such simple questions can lead to life-changing moments. I’ve always been a cheesy one for liking that “New year, new me” bullshit. But this year, more than any other before, I actually feel in charge of my life—who knew all it would take was leaving behind all the weight that held me back.

This ended up being much more personal and diary-like than I initially intended, but I hope you, too, might be able to help yourself out with my story. Be cautious of hoarding stuff and overbuying this holiday season; it’s a terrifyingly easy thing to do. Love each and every thing you own—if it doesn’t bring you happiness, chances are you’re better off without it, trust me!

Guys, this officially completes three full years of my being with OWLS. I’ll have another Top-5 post for that coming out soon. Until then, this concludes my December 19th entry in the OWLS “Holiday” blog tour. The incredible Irina (Drunken Anime Blog) took to the keyboard once more to write about her beloved Natsume that you can read right here! Now, look out for THE Lyn (Just Something About LynLyn) of OWLS herself with a post this Sunday, December 22nd! Thank you so much for reading, and remember, pursue happiness—you owe it to yourself!

– Takuto, your host

Yumeiro Patisserie: The Strong, the Savory, & the Sweet || OWLS “Failure”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s eleventh monthly topic of 2019, “Failure,” I wanted to dabble just a bit into the sweetest little show that’s been on my plate as of late. We’re talking about Yumeiro Patissiere and a young girl’s road to becoming a pastry chef—and don’t worry, I’m not gonna sugarcoat any part of her great struggles!

One of the best ways we can learn is through failure. This month we will be talking about the failures of our favorite characters in pop culture media and what we can learn from them. We will also reflect on our own mistakes and failures and how those experiences have allowed us to grow as human beings.

I’m gonna keep this sweet and simple, just as the show would serve it to you, so thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 50-episode fall 2009 anime “Yumeiro Patissiere,” stylized as “Yumeiro Pâtissière,” animated by Studio Pierrot and Studio Hibari, directed by Suzuki Iku, and based on the manga by Natsumi Matsumoto. Minor spoilers for the first 12 episodes will be present. 

Thrown Into the Culinary World

Ichigo Amano may just be a middle schooler, but she’s nothing when compared to her piano prodigy of a kid sister. In fact, Ichigo hasn’t ever been successful at anything, but she does have a passion for eating cakes. This unique tongue of hers leads Ichigo to Henri Lucas, a famous patissier who not only recognizes Ichigo’s tasting talents, but points her towards St. Marie Academy. This prestigious culinary school specializes in the art of desserts, and just so happens to be her late grandma’s alma mater, who was an accomplished confectioner in her own right.

Despite being a beginner lacking all of the essential skills for the craft (and thanks to being recommended by THE Henri sensei), Ichigo is placed in the elite A Group with the “Sweets Princes.” Famous throughout the school for their enchanting treats (and charming good looks), the trio is composed of Andou, an analytical, traditional Japanese sweets specialist; Hanabusa, a delicate boy who crafts elegant candied flowers; and Kashino, a gifted chocolatier with an attitude that’s not afraid to bite back.

While they’d likely fair well on their own (save for poor Ichigo), each of the kids in A Group are accompanied by their “Sweets Spirits,” fairies from a distant land who make patissiers’ dreams come true by aiding them in the kitchen with tips and tricks. Together, they all work towards their unique goals in the competitive world of sweets, and pray each day that their combined efforts will pay off in the future.

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The Strong Must Protect the Sweet

The culinary world will always be a scary one to me, so it’s no wonder that Ichigo is freaking out when she’s placed among the school’s elite from the get-go. Easily the kind of girl to mistake the salt for sugar, Ichigo is a total klutz—and this doesn’t take too long for her new classmates to figure out. Every minute Ichigo spends with the esteemed Sweets Princes soils their perfect reputation.

However, as she works her saccharine magic on their hearts and they bond together through late night practice sessions in the kitchen, the Sweets Princes slowly start to care less about what their peers think and more about what their savory sweets mean to those that fall for their confectionery. By bouncing their knowledge and creativity off one another, the members of A Group learn most of all that love is just as essential an ingredient as flour, eggs, or sugar are.

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Criticism & Self-Destruction in Academia

Japan has this thing about letting us know how exploited and overworked students can sometimes feel in elite academic settings. The tiniest compliments can give such students the greatest confidence boost, but the slightest criticism can be absolutely devastating. It’s a fine line us students pressured by high standards find ourselves tight-roping across, and that’s exactly where Ichigo finds herself at St. Marie.

At its earliest low in the series’ first twelve episodes, Ichigo almost quits school entirely. The moment before she left her dorm for home, she got ahead of herself and thought she’d do well in the upcoming cake-baking tournament without having had more experience behind her. Of course, she was just joking around with the Sweets Princes, boasting because they had recently served up something incredible as a team, but Andou and Hanabusa, who are normally very kind and supportive, snapped back and told her how wrong she was—that the competitive world of a pastry chef is much more arduous and complicated than baking a cake for some kids.

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This revelation—and it coming from the nicest people in her class—throws Ichigo from the top of the summit to the bottom of the ravine. One minute she felt like she could joke around and laugh at her successes and failures alike with her esteemed peers, the next she couldn’t feel more distant from them. Here, we have a middle school girl voicing the concerns of every struggling honor student in academia:


I got into the school fine, but it was just screw up after screw up, day after day. And once in a while, when someone complimented me, I got way too carried away. I think I’m just not cut out for that place. — Ichigo Amano


Inspiration Lies In Our Humble Beginnings

It takes going back to her creative roots—to her grandma’s old sweets shop, and the source of her inspiration—to jump-start that confidence and motivate Ichigo to get back on her feet. Ichigo even gets the chance to flex in front of her incredibly talented younger sister, showing off all the skills she learned at her fancy academy. It turns out, when she has to fend for herself, Ichigo knows a lot more than she gives herself credit for

When she asks her uncle to make the house special strawberry tart, only she—not even her talented sister—notices that her grandma’s recipe was changed. It is at that very moment that Ichigo realizes she is qualified for this career, and she becomes even more deeply connected with her grandma’s unique style as a patissier.

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Having turned a new leaf, Ichigo feels ready to get back to baking. Of course, kind hearts attract good company, as Ichigo’s mom had her packed bags ready to go in the trunk the whole time. Imparting precious wisdom, Kyouko Amano drops her clumsy yet dedicated daughter back off at the academy. Honestly, that’s #familygoals, but she also wouldn’t be coming back were it not for her friends in A Group who covered for her abrupt absence.

When the going gets tough, sometimes we have to take life one chocolate cake roll at a time. We should take chances, and even if we suck, we should never give up. We should polish our dreams like jewels, and even when we want to cry, if we try smiling while doing something we love, we just might be able to change our whole day around all on our own. Sometimes, all it takes is going back to our humble beginnings to realize just how far we’ve traveled. There are more takeaways one could make, but hey, sometimes the shortest explanations are the sweetest ones. 

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It’s ok to get depressed sometimes. But what’s important is to get back on our feet when we’re ready. — Kyouko Amano


Afterword

Just like the opening says, Yumeiro Patissiere is “Light and soft and fluffy! Melt-in-your-mouth sweet! It’ll bring you so much unbridled happiness.” So on and so forth. Yumeiro Patisserie is a gem, a certified “Cake” like you’ve never had it, and one that has a fun flavor you’ll never forget! I doubt anyone’s ever heard of this anime (I hadn’t, until the Blu-ray was recommended to me in a sale so I snatched it up), but don’t sleep on this shit—it’s GOOD. The young hardworking patissieres, the beautiful string music, the decadent, delectable desserts—this show is so friggin’ charming, and I’m so excited to see where it goes. After all, there are 50 episodes in the first season alone!

This concludes my November 28th entry in the OWLS “Failure” blog tour. My friend Crimson (Read At Night) went right before me with a post over the heartbreaking geisha drama novel Snow Country that you can read right here! Now, look out for my blogger buddy Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) as he rounds out the month with his crack at Haikyu!! and what failure means to the Karasuno Team (so excited to read!) this Saturday, November 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

To the Top of the Tower: How Alicization Encodes its Lore || OWLS “Fantasy”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s tenth monthly topic of 2019, “Fantasy,” I decided to head down a less conventional route for portraying this genre with none other than the (in)famous Sword Art Online. But fear not, for in my most humblest opinion, the Alicization story is not only the franchise’s most competent arc, but most fantasy-heavy one as well.

In the month of October, we will be exploring the world of fantasy in pop culture. The genre of fantasy focuses on telling stories about our external and internal environments. There are many ways we can interpret the word fantasy. For example, we can talk about how a fantastical place could glorify what reality should be, or the dangers of ideal expectations. Fantasy could also be seen as taking a “wild journey” or a “hallucination,” and how that can affect our psyche and well-being. Additionally, fantasy can focus on our personal dreams and expectations, and how those expectations do not align with our reality. Overall, our posts will reflect on how we view the fantasy genre and what we can learn about these pop culture mediums.

Since I’ve got a review of the series coming in a couple days, it’ll be nice to focus exclusively on the cool story elements at play here. SPOILERS will be present. Thanks Lyn and Aria for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 24-episode fall 2018 anime “Sword Art Online: Alicization” as well as the original novel series, animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Manabu Ono, and based on the light novel by Reki Kawahara. MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT. 

How SAO Blends Magic & Science Fiction

Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online has amassed into a franchise that sets its stories in a variety of fantasy worlds, but with a caveat: They are gaming worlds, virtual lands created by programming, and code is the law of the land. My favorite aspect of each season is watching how they seamlessly blends the two genres I love most—fantasy and sci-fi—with one another to create some of the coolest adventure stories out there. SAO is cool, yeah, I said it.

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Every magical attack, legendary item, or floor boss is portrayed through a fantasy lens, but can be broken down scientifically by sword skills and hit-points, system stats, and in-game features. SAO, GGO, ALO, and the latest VR world “Underworld” all operate on systems that actively try to rationalize even their most fantastical of elements. Often, yet most especially with this third season, the series isn’t afraid to dive into weapon lore and in-game backstory whenever permissible to explain certain mechanics and unique properties. As such, SAO is a universe structured around duality: the relationship between code (the outside world) and lore (the inside world)

In this community, however, it is rare for people to call parts—let alone entire story arcs—of SAO “good” or even “great” like I do, which kinda sucks as a fan. But the coming of Alicization changed the game, truly, and imparted with us a story of epic proportions unlike anything the series has tackled before. And with the grand War of Underworld on the horizon, there’s no better time than now to sit down and take a look at the inner mechanisms of this latest world our hero finds himself trapped in.

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System Call: Underworld’s Unique Features

As with previous seasons, Kirito is forced into another virtual world due to circumstances far out of his control. What immediately draws his eyes to this virtual reality, unlike others have done before, however, is that “Underworld” looks and feels very real. And it should—it’s based on a network of real human memories, after all. By highlighting the neural pathways of the brain—the “Fluctlight”—and flooding them with visual imagery that stimulates one’s haptic, echoic, and visual senses, a person hooked up to the “Soul Translator” can essentially experience life in an entirely different world, detailed down to the tiniest speck of dirt.

While the mind is in some far off world full of swords and dragons, the physical body remains intact on the outside. You could almost view Kirito’s wild journey through the fantastical unknown as one big hallucination, as every memory made in the game world is erased upon awakening (due to a contractual agreement made between the Rath Scientists and the subject). This allows Kirito’s mind to continue operating and maintain the neural connections that would otherwise be lost due to his fatal encounter at the third season’s beginning.

And so here we are, in this world that looks just like ours on the surface, but operates under an entirely different set of encoded gimmicks and laws. Instead of chemical properties and physics, everything in Underworld has life and experience points. Rocks, trees, food, weapons, and of course people are all bound to a numerical HP. Can’t seem to lift a heavy blade or open a particular door? Perhaps it’s not your own strength at fault, but the fact that such “objects” may be assigned a higher priority number than your own level can currently interact with. And you don’t “make” fires—you “Generate Thermal Elements.” Such cool coding lingo.

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The system gets even more interesting when it comes to the Integrity Knights’ Divine Object-class weapons, one-of-a-kind arms they wield to protect the human realm. Each with their own unique origin, such legendary swords or bows can unleash unimaginable powers beyond their prescribed damage set, especially if the weapon’s memory is triggered via the “Enhance Armament” system command, followed by “Release Recollection.”

For instance, Kirito’s Night Sky Sword, made from the highest branch of the once-infellable Gigas Cedar, can summon all of the darkness amassed through years of gazing at the stars in one incredible blast when its memory is released. Eugeo’s Blue Rose Sword, born from a lonely rose which blossomed in the snow and ice of the End Mountains, freezes all in its user’s path, encasing foes in icy vines and frost.

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For the Integrity Knights, the lore embedded within their Divine Objects runs even deeper due to their creator’s self-assigned calling as Ruler of Underworld. The titular Alice Synthesis Thirty’s golden-petaled Osmanthus Blade was originally the first tree programmed in Underworld, and thus the oldest creation in the land. Fanatio Synthesis Two’s Heaven Piercing Sword was a physics experiment of Administrator’s in which the concentrated the light of a thousand mirrors was forged into a single blade in an attempt to mimmick the great Solus itself.

And get this: the great Bercouli Synthesis One’s Time Piercing Sword was crafted from the needle on the first village’s clock tower—Underworld’s own system clock. I just love the way Kawahara marries gaming mechanics and programming with story lore to form not just creative weapon origin stories, but an entire world full of intrigue and wonder to be fascinated with.

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Cracking open the Central Cathedral

When a story presents you with a tower, you climb it. Whether you’re adventurous or not, that’s just what you do. Kirito seeks out the towering Central Cathedral at the center of the human realm in hopes that somewhere waiting for him on the very top lies a console in which he can log himself out through. While he’s not technically wrong, the costs of getting to the 100th floor far outweigh the prize he seeks.

The very act of ascending Central Cathedral floor by floor feeds us with hope that whatever lies at the top will scratch that itch we’ve had since Kirito first woke up in Underworld. Little did any of us realize how truly unprepared we were for the rich irony awaiting our poor characters, as well as the truth behind the horrific secrets holding the fabric of their world together. 

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As the Pontifex of the church, Administrator, imparts her devious and wicked plots to Kirito and his friend Eugeo, we finally come to understand that some truths are in fact better not knowing. The holy order that’s been maintaining peace in the realm, the legend of the three goddesses who blessed the land, the very truth behind the coming cataclysmic invasion by the forces of the Dark Territory—

Of course, it’s all fake. Yup. Fantasy often leaves us spellbound, instilling within us a feeling that something holds deeper meaning than it really does. Perhaps that’s because we want fantasies to entertain us, to dress up the real world, even if the characters may be desperately trying to tear it all down. Like Administrator’s Integrity Knights, which have been brutally brainwashed into fighting on the behalf of some made-up higher power than themselves, we want to believe there is deeper meaning to what we do, and that we’re not just vehicles for someone else’s success or failure.

To trust in that illusion is to fall for deception, and that’s exactly what Administrator did. She deceived people. She built up several lifetimes worth of fraud, lies, and corruption, which are manifested by the imposing, all-seeing tower of Central Cathedral itself. As Kirito remarks toward Administrator, toward Quinella: she’s no god or ruler, but a thief. Quinella preached unconditional love to her followers, but all she really desired was absolute control. So she stole what she wanted from the humans of Underworld, and fabricated layers of mythos to protect her frail ego from the mere thought of losing her power, her authority, and her control over others.

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Imagination Holds the Power to Change Everything

Central Cathedral and the Integrity Knights—“born” to fight for the good of the human realm yet unknowingly bow to Administrator’s whim—represent just how a land of honor, bravery, and magic can glorify these noble concepts: People should be born with the freedom to love and protect as they wish to, not as someone else pleases. Kirito and Eugeo’s quest to right the wrongs of this land’s all-powerful Ruler present the dangers of ideal expectations in the form Quinella’s knights that were led astray by her lust. But most of all, we experience firsthand how human morals can be easily twisted when the right bait is dangled in front of our faces.

The power of using imagination to change the world—or in this case create one—is the philosophy that lies at the core of the fantasy genre. If we can dream it, it shall be, and SAO is no exception to this principle. Fantasies can conjure forth one’s greatest mystical musings about how the world can be, and Quinella took this power in her own hands to create a reality where the world bows to her wishes, not the other way around. When Kirito forces his way to her chambers on the 100th floor, her expectations of the fantasy world she created are called into question.

As a VRMMORPG fanatic, I guess you could say Kirito’s ideas of a truly enjoyable fantasy world overpowered even the Ruler’s imagination of such a world, and thus he manages to slay Administrator in combat, single-handed. By then, it was not a battle of strength, but a clash of two individual wills—and an exchange for the truth that resulted in the shattering of over 300 years worth of painstakingly crafted illusions, and the destruction of a young greedy girl’s entire fantasy.

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The only proof of my existence is the control I exert. That desire is the one thing that motives me and gives me life! These legs of mine are meant only to trample over others. They are not for bending at the knees! — Administrator


Afterword

Lots of foreshadowing there at the end, I know! It’s not THE Quinella post I wanted to write, but it’ll do for now. This post probably made no sense whatsoever to non-SAO fans, and perhaps even to people who watched and even enjoyed Alicization‘s first half. I often ramble in these posts, but man, someone really should’ve cut me off with this one! A full series review of Alicization is in the works, so I’ll save any kind of rating for then. In the meantime, if you, too, liked the first half of this epic third season, I encourage you to share your favorite aspects about the series in the comments!

This concludes my October 29th entry in the OWLS “Fantasy” blog tour. Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) went right before me with a much more pleasant post over the light-hearted Flying Witch that you can read right here! Now, look out for Naja (Blerdy Otome) with an excellent post about the portrayal of romance in her favorite otome games tomorrow, October 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host